An Roinn Oideachais agus EolaŪochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of Home Economics
Riversdale Community College,
Blanchardstown Rd North, Dublin 15
Roll number: 70081V
††††††††† †Date of inspection: 6 February 2009
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in Home Economics
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Riversdale Community College. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in Home Economics and makes recommendations for the further development of the teaching of this subject in the school.† The evaluation was conducted over two days during which the inspector visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning.† The inspector interacted with students and teachers, examined studentsí work, and had discussions with the teachers.† The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teachersí written preparation.† Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal and subject teachers. The board of management was given an opportunity to comment in writing on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
Home Economics enjoys a high profile in Riversdale Community College where it is an integral component of all the curriculum programmes in the school. The home economics department makes commendable efforts to promote the subject as a realistic option for all students in the school. Uptake at junior and senior cycle is very good, with particularly good participation rates among the male student cohort.† This is a laudable achievement.
Home Economics benefits from a very good level of provision and whole-school support. Junior cycle students are assigned to banded classes and Home Economics is offered as an optional subject to students in the top and middle bands. The taster programme that operates for part of first year provides these students with opportunities to sample subjects within each option band. This good practice facilitates students in making informed subject choices. Home Economics forms part of the core curriculum followed by students in the remaining class groups.
Home Economics is a core subject in the Transition Year programme (TY). Two Leaving Certificate programmes, the established Leaving Certificate and the Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) are available in the school. Students opting for the established Leaving Certificate generally participate in TY. Leaving Certificate option bands are usually based on junior cycle bands. †It was reported that the bands are originally generated based on the availability of staff and other timetable constraints. Consideration should be given in the future to generating option bands from an initial survey of studentsí preferences. This practice would inform on-going reviews of curriculum provision and ensure that option bands continue to meet the needs and interests of students, in so far as is feasible.† Hotel, Catering and Tourism has been re-introduced as a vocational specialism in LCA this year. The laudable initiative allows students build on knowledge and skills acquired in junior cycle.
Very good practice is evident in the deployment of staff to Home Economics. The home economics team comprises three committed subject specialists. It is commendable that each year the subject co-ordinator, following team discussions, meets with the principal to discuss time tabling and the assigning of classes among the team. Where feasible, teachers retain their classes throughout the junior and senior cycle programme. It is particularly commendable that teachers rotate between curriculum programmes in order to build capacity and share expertise. Teaching time allocated to classes is in line with syllabus requirements. However, in instances where students only have two double lessons, they should not be timetabled on two consecutive days.† This results in a gap on almost one week between lessons. Where Home Economics is a core subject, and therefore not part of an option band, it is recommended that strong consideration be given to re-arranging class time into one double and two single lessons. This alternative arrangement would facilitate a better spread of lessons across the teaching week, maximise continuity in teaching and learning and better suit the education needs of students when planning theory lessons.
There are two specialist rooms for Home Economics. One room is used for practical food studies, while the second room is primarily used for practical lessons in textiles and theory classes. This second room was originally equipped as a catering kitchen for a post-leaving programme that is no longer operating in the school. Management is very supportive of requests made for specialist equipment. As some of the appliances in the main kitchen are coming to the end of their lifespan, the home economics team should continue to plan for the phased upgrading of this room. This can be met over time as resources permit. As the smaller kitchen is no longer used for food studies, consideration should be given to moving some of the equipment to the main kitchen.
An inclusive and caring ethos underpins the work of the school. As evidence of this philosophy, the school supplies studentsí materials for practical lessons. This highly-commended practice supports high-quality engagement and supports studentsí learning. Good provision is made for students with additional learning needs. Small classes are created and special needs assistants attend classes as appropriate. The home economics team also liaise with class tutors and the teachers who provide additional English language support to maximise inclusion in lessons.
High priority is given to health and safety in Home Economics. Health and safety rules for Home Economics have been translated into Polish to accommodate some students whose first language is not English. This particularly commendable practice is further evidence of the inclusive atmosphere in the school.
There is considerable interest in developing the potential of information and communication technology (ICT) to support the teaching and learning of Home Economics. The home economics department is equipped with a dedicated computer and printer. If resources permit, a data projector for the home economics department would fully exploit the potential of this equipment. Two computer rooms are available in the school though the home economics team reports that these are heavily booked for other subjects. ICT is a useful tool to allow students and teachers engage in the independent and guided research necessary to fulfil coursework requirements. The home economics team has identified integrating ICT into teaching and learning as a priority for subject planning. As a means of progressing this priority, it is recommended that a strategic plan for utilising and embedding ICT into the teaching and learning of Home Economics be developed. This plan will be useful in establishing resource needs that can be met over time, as resources permit. The feasibility of obtaining occasional access to one of the two computer rooms should be investigated. This would be a valuable resource when students are undertaking research for key assignments and tasks in LCA and when completing investigations for the Leaving Certificate food studies assignments.
Subject department planning is well established in Home Economics. A collaborative ethos underpins the work of the subject team who meet regularly both on a formal and informal basis. Records are kept of each subject planning meeting to facilitate continuity between meetings. This is good practice. The position of subject co-ordinator is assigned to the most senior home economics teacher. Due to the voluntary nature of this position, consideration should be given to rotating the role of co-ordinator among the teaching team. This would provide further opportunities to share the workload and build leadership capacity among team members.
A systematic approach is apparent in the subject planning process adopted by the home economics team. Very good progress has been made in developing a subject plan. A culture of self-evaluation is evident through the use of diagnostic windows to assess the strengths and challenges facing the home economics department. Priorities identified include ICT in Home Economics and raising studentsí aspirations to encourage increased participation rates at higher level. In addition, the review box included in the programme planning template also serves to foster reflective practices among the teaching team. Such practices are laudable.
The programme plans which are in place for Junior and Leaving Certificate, LCA and TY are at varying stages of development. The template developed by the team provides the basis for well-developed plans to outline information such as content, methodologies, resources and, on occasion, assessment and homework activities. The electronic format makes it easy to make subsequent amendments. Over time the topics list on all programme plans should be developed to include an outline of studentsí expected knowledge and understanding in terms of expected learning outcomes. The Junior Certificate programme plan provides information on the topics to be covered in each year group and a good range of active methodologies is integrated into the plan. It is particularly commendable that students are required to complete evaluations as part of food studies practicals. The resource booklets developed for food studies and the taster programme are particularly commendable initiatives. To build on the good practices already evident, it is recommended that the sequence of lessons in the Junior Certificate plan be reviewed to adopt a more integrated approach across the five core areas of the syllabus. It is very important that programme planning facilitates a balanced and incremental progression of practical and procedural skills. In this context, the arrangement of food studies practicals in third year should be reviewed and consideration should be given to completing a simple design brief in tandem with the items made as part of core textiles.
The Leaving Certificate programme plan viewed during the evaluation was primarily based on a template that was designed by the Home Economics Support Service to provide guidance on the time allocation for each topic. It is recommended that this plan be further developed and presented in a sequence of lessons that reflects the integrated approach recommended in the Leaving Certificate syllabus. To facilitate a student-centred approach to the practical coursework, it is recommended that particular attention be given to planning the coursework assignments into a sequence of lessons that integrates relevant theory. Lessons explaining the routines for recording assignments into the coursework journals should also be included from time to time, particularly as progress is made from one area of practice to another.
There was some good use of the reflection column of programme plans in the subject planning folder. Planning by its nature is a process that will always demonstrate scope for further refinement. To maximise the potential of this reflection column, it is recommended that all teachers use the plans as working documents and in the review column note any adjustments made to the class time taken to complete topics, particularly successful resources and the homework or assessment strategies used. This information should then inform the next stage of programme planning which should focus on developing assessment and homework strategies and on incorporating specific resources that proved suitable for delivering particular topics or modules.
There is a good range of additional resources available to home economics teachers. It is commendable that a system is in place that allows each teacher easy access to shared resources. Consideration could be given to compiling a catalogue of resources such as DVDs or posters. This would prove useful in identifying any gaps that exist in particular areas.†
The home economics department makes a commendable contribution to the extra-curricular and co-curricular programme in Riversdale Community College. The department plays an active role in school activities such as healthy options week, graduation nights and open evenings.
The quality of individual advance planning and preparation for the lessons observed was very good. Studentsí learning was enhanced by the use of carefully selected resources such as well-designed worksheets, case studies, resource packs and food products.† Commendable use of ICT was evident in the preparation of some of these additional resource materials.
Very good quality teaching and learning was evident in all the lessons observed during the evaluation. All lessons had a clear focus and were paced and pitched at a level appropriate to studentsí needs and syllabus requirements. The aim of each lesson was shared with students. In one lesson key learning outcomes for the topic were shared with students. This good practice, which is one of the key principles underpinning Assessment for Learning (AfL), is encouraged further. When specific learning outcomes are clearly explained and referred to during the lesson, studentsí learning is enhanced as they have a clear focus throughout the lesson.† If these outcomes are used as the basis of a lesson summary studentsí learning is consolidated and self-evaluation of work is encouraged. Classroom practice regarding the setting of learning outcomes should also inform the assessment strategies used.
In the lessons observed deliberate efforts were made to match the teaching strategies employed to studentsí needs. Teacher explanations were clear and very good links were made with prior learning to reinforce key concepts. Observation of student responses indicated that they had a good understanding of the information under discussion.† Conscious efforts were also made to link new material to studentsí own experiences. As an ice breaker activity in a lesson, students had to list foods that they would typically eat for lunch while at school and evaluate the information in terms of the food pyramid. †This activity proved very effective in engaging students with the lesson content and enhanced understanding of new information.
Active learning underpinned the teaching strategies used in all of the lessons observed. This very good practice is in keeping with the methodologies underpinning the teaching and learning of junior and senior cycle home economics syllabuses. Worksheets were effectively used to support the learning outcomes for each lesson. Studentsí learning was effectively reinforced, by completing activities such as cloze tests, word puzzles and labelling diagrams. Of particular note was the fact that many of the worksheets also included activities that encouraged the development of the higher-order skills of analysis, interpretation and evaluation of information. †While students engaged with these tasks, teachers were provided with additional opportunities to monitor progress and provide individual assistance to students. There was some good use of group work to allow student complete activities. In the case of one lesson observed, students were beginning a project on special diets.† This is a commendable strategy to encourage both independent and co-operative learning as well as a sense of personal responsibility and student teamwork. Best practice was evident in instances where key points of information from group work was discussed and noted on the board in plenary session and where students noted the relevant information into their notebooks. This practice further reinforces student learning.
There was a very good rapport between the students and teachers, and an affirming learning atmosphere was evident in all the lessons. Planned activities were well managed and where issues arose they were dealt with in a clam and consistent manner. Such good practice ensured that students remained engaged with the lesson and productive learning took place.† Students were encouraged to ask questions in order to clarify concepts and where necessary they were gently prompted to elicit the correct responses. †The good practice of taking the roll call was noted.
Observations of student notebooks indicated some good practice in relation to the completion of evaluations and the filing of worksheets completed in class. The good practice of monitoring notebooks was also noted. To enhance student learning, it is recommended that the home economics team develop a standardised system for student notebooks. Strategies that would encourage students to keep a notebook that includes key points of information covered in theoretical and practical lessons, and that would facilitate the systematic storage of any handouts and worksheets distributed in class should be explored. The resulting notebook would prove an excellent tool for ease of reference for student revision and the completion of homework assignments. †
Good progress was noted in studentsí Leaving Certificate coursework journals and key assignments. Observation of studentsí recent project work in the area of craft and design indicated some commendable levels of creativity in the interpretation of their design brief. Best practice was observed in instances where students demonstrated a very good level of complexity in their chosen craft skill and where student originality was evident in the analysis, interpretation and evaluation of the design brief in the support folder. The chief examinersí reports and associated marking schemes issued by the State Examinations Commission are very useful for further guidance and advice on the coursework components at junior and senior cycle.
Students are challenged to reach their full potential and aim for high academic standards in Home Economics. It is commendable that the home economics team routinely analyse student outcomes as evidenced by results in the certificate examinations. As part of the home economics department aims to increase levels of student attainment, notable increases in participation rates at higher level have been achieved. The teaching team are commended for the efforts made in this regard. Attainment levels should continue to inform on-going programme planning.
A commendable focus was placed on assessing studentsí learning as an integral part of each lesson observed. Questioning strategies were used effectively to assess studentsí understanding and encourage them to make links with other sections of the syllabus. This very good practice supports students in preparing for the integrated questions on certificate examinations. On many occasions the questions posed promoted the development of higher-order thinking skills.† This is very good practice. In the case of students participating in the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP), it is laudable that learning targets for Home Economics are an integral component of the profiling system.
Formative assessment procedures used in Home Economics also include class tests, monitoring progress of practical coursework and, in some instances, the assigning of written homework. Some good practice was evident in the monitoring of written work with useful teacher comments in copybooks that provided valuable feedback to students on their progress and affirmed work well done. A homework policy is in place for Home Economics but the teaching team report that difficulties exist in relation to the completion of homework and these are recognised. However, there is scope to review and refine current homework practices with regard to the range of activities assigned and the procedures for monitoring work. Homework assignments are a valuable means of consolidating classroom learning and encouraging students to take responsibility for their own learning.† Therefore, it is recommended that the team revises the homework policy for Home Economics. Particular attention should be given to ensuring that all classes are provided with opportunities to complete individual written assignments that can be taken up on a regular basis in order to provide individual feedback to students. The range of activities assigned should provide opportunities to develop skills in the wide range of question styles typical of the certificate examinations in Home Economics. Strategies to address studentsí non-compliance with homework should also be considered. For instance, non-traditional types of homework, including for example, research, recording observations, analysing television programmes and gathering samples of everyday materials for use as learning supports in lessons could be explored. Homework monitoring procedures should provide regular opportunities to include positive, formative comments in copybooks which are a helpful means of guiding students on how to improve their written work. †Further information on formative assessment and AfL is available on the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment website at www.ncca.ie.
The group project work in TY is a commendable assessment strategy. To enhance its potential, it is recommended that assessment criteria linked to clear learning outcomes be devised for the assessment of all project work. This information should be shared with students and provide a basis for the provision of constructive feedback when monitoring the work.
Some good summative assessment practice is evident in Home Economics. The written papers are generally in line with the format of the relevant certificate examination. This very good practice is encouraged. In some cases the grades awarded comprise an aggregate mark that includes an assessment of the relevant practical coursework components. This very good practice should be extended where necessary as it mirrors the arrangements for the certificate examinations and is a very good indicator of studentsí progress in the subject.
Records of student attendance, class tests and work completed and assigned to classes are maintained by teachers. The records of studentsí progress in homework activities could be enhanced as a means of providing a further evidence base to offer advice on appropriate examination levels. It is commendable that student achievement in Home Economics is celebrated through events such as the JCSP celebration evening, poster displays, subject competitions and information evenings.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of Home Economics and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published, June 2009